Top 10 predictions for the Internet in 2016

AndrewCushenA blog post from Andrew Cushen, Work Programme Director at InternetNZ
19 January 2016

Predictions are tricky, but here is what we think are issues that are likely to crop up for the Internet in 2016. We'd love to know what you think too - come along to our member meet-ups over the next few weeks and let us know!

10: Governments continue to challenge encryption and anonymization on the Internet

Encryption and anonymization are services that make the open Internet more usable and have hundreds of beneficial uses. They are however also increasingly being demonised as Governments continue to counter terrorist threats. We've written about that last year when our New Zealand Government started referencing a similar "need" to curb encryption in response to the Paris attacks in November last year.

Unfortunately, 2016 is likely to be the year that the pressure on encryption and anonymisation increases. Stories have already emerged about how the US Government is working with tech companies to try find ways to evade full encryption or anonymization. We'll remain vigilant against that by working against similar initiatives here in New Zealand, and working in concert on the international stage via campaigns like Secure the Internet.

9: Pressure rises for data retention in New Zealand

A rise in concern about terrorism may also be used as a justification for data retention in New Zealand. We've already seen many of our comparator nations move on such data retention measure - the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia - to name but a few.

That hasn't happened here so far for a number of excellent reasons; not only is data retention likely to be horrendously expensive, but it is also a huge concern for those worried about privacy online. Concerns have also been raised overseas that such measures do little to combat terrorism at all.

We hope we're wrong on this one and that sanity continues to prevail here. Our ISPs will also hopefully remain vigilant, as it is them that will face these costs if mandatory data retention was considered here. Likewise, organisations like us at InternetNZ will be strongly concerned about another step against eroding our privacy on the Internet.

8: ICANN will sign off on becoming more accountable, and the IANA transition will happen

Thanks to a lot of incredible work from the global Internet community (with no shortage of help and leadership from InternetNZ via Keith and Jordan) we should see the end of the first phase of work on improved accountability within ICANN, sign off of the IANA Stewardship transition, and the end of the contract between the USG and ICANN. This will be a moment of celebration for the global Internet community, with coordination of the Internet's root zone becoming fully the responsibility of an appropriately accountable, multistakeholder, globally minded organisation in ICANN.

Of course, work will still need to be done to complete the transition; and ICANN itself will be appointing a new Chief Executive to replace the outgoing Fadi Chedade. Whoever succeeds from him will have the challenging task of ensuring that ICANN delivers to its new accountabilities and responsibilities.

7: We'll still be talking about the Telecommunications Act Review (especially because of the Copper pricing decision)

A big job for this year will be continuing our work on the Telecommunications Act, as part of the MBIE-led Convergence Programme. Our goals are getting pretty clear here:

  • In the likely absence of effective competition, regulation setting wholesale fibre prices is in place and active as of 1st January 2020.
  • The policy framework continues to be centred on end-user benefits - where possible through competition, with tweaks to accommodate where competition isn't feasible.
  • Regulatory processes should be as accessible, inclusive and as open as possible - not the expensive "wars of attrition" that they are now.
  • Internet users deserve certainty and fairness in their retail prices as much as the industry deserves certainty in their investments. Current processes have seen retail prices increase to 60th most affordable according to the International Telecommunications Union. That's moving in the wrong direction against the rest of the world.

The opportunity is there for New Zealand to put a world-beating regulatory framework in place that leads to widely available and affordable Internet all around the country - and that's an opportunity we'll do our best to make sure it is achieved.

This work will likely continue into 2017 and beyond too, and we are very keen to ensure that InternetNZ members and our Internet community understand these debates, and participate as much as possible. Watch this space.

6: Fibre uptake will continue to surge, but some real challenges will emerge on connection and performance

Fibre connection rates are already starting to look impressive, passing 100,000 connections late in 2015. It is such a better connectivity experience that we think that even more New Zealanders will make the switch in 2016. The decision to upgrade will get even easier when many New Zealanders face price rises for their current copper services thanks to the decision of the Commerce Commission late last year.

We see some storm clouds on the horizon though. Chorus has warned everybody that their estimates for how much it costs to connect individual properties were insufficient. They set aside a $20m fund to cover the shortfall in those charges... but 2016 is likely to be the year that money runs out. It's going to be awfully unfair on those areas that are later in the fibre build if they don't get a share of connection subsidy, so here's hoping that somewhere between the Government, Chorus and ISPs that sense prevails.

These challenges in connection are likely to be exacerbated once Chorus' results are seen, and the expected windfall in profits that they receive come through thanks to the copper prices referred to above. Whether or not the massive profits that Chorus may now make on connections to legacy copper will dampen their enthusiasm for rolling out fibre remains to be seen.

Finally, we will also hear more about the rest of the connectivity ecosystem. For example, some users won't experience the best of fibre due to the inadequacy of their home wiring. We'll also likely still be almost completely reliant on Southern Cross for our international connectivity too. And we will still be working out what's fair in terms of connecting apartments and down rights-of-way.

5: The rural broadband story changes significantly

We've already seen results of testing from Spark, showing what cell-sites upgraded to LTE are capable of - 40mbps plus in some instances.

Yes, we know how easy that is when there are few users, but it still demonstrates that the next wave of technologies for rural connectivity may be real game changers. Throw into that mix a surprisingly different story regarding Satellite connectivity thanks to the likes of Wireless Nation, and undoubted innovation from the Wireless guys around New Zealand, and the second phase of the Rural Broadband Initiative starts to look really interesting.

If that's the case, then there is likely to be real competition emerge in many parts of rural New Zealand. Many people may find that they're able to ditch legacy copper connections for far better performance wirelessly without an increase in their costs. But it still won't be the promise of Fibre To The Home (FTTH) that many in rural areas desire.

Rural New Zealand deserves a lot better than the 5mbps target that RBI-1 delivered to. We need all of New Zealand to be able to share in the benefits and uses of connectivity, not leave 20-25% of our population behind. Hopefully 2016 is the year the rural broadband story changes in a big way.

4: We still won't have an operational CERT...

We welcomed the announcement of the Government's updated Cyber Security Strategy, which included the announcement that the Government is going to build a Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT).

This is good news, and long overdue - but unfortunately, it's already crowded out the excellent work that the NZITF was doing in building CSIRTnz. That's set New Zealand back. Instead of having a multistakeholder, operational response to Internet threats early in 2016, we're at risk of still designing the Government one at the end of 2016 instead. Sigh.

3: ...which means we will probably face New Zealand's biggest data breach or security incident to date

It gives us no pleasure to make this prediction, but we all know that online threats are not decreasing. Not having a CERT means that New Zealand is more exposed than we should be, and means that we run the risk of something seriously bad happening with the information that is held about us online.

The government, has acknowledged that this is a risk and that's why they have developed programs like CORTEX. The problem is that this is for large companies. Who's looking after the small companies and individuals? Their data is just as important and is one of the big questions that remains about the scope of the Government's work on a CERT.

If we are right about this, then I hope that New Zealand seizes the opportunity and bolsters the CERT, and broader security initiatives to make concrete, real improvements in our Internet security.

2: Investment will be made in lifting the online skills of New Zealanders and our businesses

We hope that the private sector and the Government will rally together to think of ways that we can lift productive use of the Internet to derive more of the economic and social benefits of connectivity. We'll be talking to potential partners in business, Government and the rest of our civil society to try make something happen here in 2016.

Our work with the Innovation Partnership showed that there remains over $30 billion in opportunity through improving how New Zealand businesses use online tools to increase productivity and efficiency. Likewise, the work of our Strategic Partner, The Institute of Culture, Discourse and Communication (ICDC) at AUT on the World Internet Project shows how important it is to work on personal, social uses too.

It will be a damn shame if the economic and social benefits of better connectivity aren't fully realised because we failed to deliver a solution that teaches New Zealanders how to use the Internet effectively. Use is becoming ever more important, and we hope that 2016 is the year that others realise that too.

1: New Zealanders will STILL be using the Internet in amazing ways

We know it's cheesy to conclude the list in the same way we did last year, but it is so true and is such a motivating factor for us all here at InternetNZ. We are proud to work in service of our Internet community as all of you explore the benefits and the potential of connectivity.

The Internet is already possibly the most transformative technology that humanity has developed. We think that we are only beginning to scratch the surface of this potential that ubiquitous, secure, reliable connectivity can bring to our creativity, communication and development.

We hope that New Zealand won'ts stumble into some of the pitfalls that we've highlighted here, and that we don't continue to lag behind on pricing, performance or on leading innovation through the Internet.

As for InternetNZ, we'll continue to be a principled, honest and courageous voice for the open Internet. We'll also do our best to promote the benefits and uses of the Internet and to protect this potential, via our work in our Issues Programme and our support for the Internet community via our Community Programme. And accordingly, we will be proud to reflect on this prediction at the end of this year, just like we were at the end of the last - regardless of how well we did with the rest!